Starfish Initiatives

The Starfish Initiative in Action

"Assisting Afghans one by one..."

You have all no doubt heard Afghan cultural wisdom expressed through the saying, “Qatra Qatra Darya Mesha.”  It is true that little by little great things can happen. Your official Alumni organization, Friends of Afghanistan, is still committed to the principles of service that animated our volunteer years in Peace Corps. FoA is focusing our activism, humanitarian assistance and charitable contributions through Starfish Initiatives in Afghanistan. Through these small projects we provide advice, service, grants and product purchases that make a real difference in the lives of individuals. While we know that we are not positioned to help large communities or enact policies that make the lives of all Afghans better, we can take action that benefits some individuals in need. And in those cases where we can, we will strive to make “a difference for that one.”

This year marks the Millennial Anniversary of the release of Ferdosi’s epic poem the Shahnameh. We thought it fitting to reprint an edited version of the parable of the Starfish featuring Rostam, the ultimate hero of the Persian speaking peoples that we first published in 2008 in the April edition of Afghan Connections.

The Parable of the Starfish

Since early morning the powerful Shamal roiling from deep within the Rub ul Khali had sent sand and surf eastward across the gulf and up against the Persian shore. At pisheen the winds abruptly ceased, dusk calmly fell along the coast, the tide drew back and the early evening sky morphed into a reassuring mixture of crimsons, pinks, and reds. Young Rostam, far from his mother Roudabeh’s home in Kabulistan, was cautiously marking his steps along the beach between the flotsam and driftwood that had been deposited by the great wind, leaving piles of trash strewn among the living and the dead creatures erratically scattered above the high tide mark. The hard packed sand was firm under Rostam’s feet and the beach appeared to taper to a point and disappear beyond the horizon to the north and south as far as the youth could see. Every few steps he would pause, squat deeply, pick up a starfish, examine it thoughtfully and gently toss it back into the sea.

Rostam’s father Zal, concerned about his son’s absence as the sky began its nightly transformations to black, approached him on the shore and asked what could be so important that it would take the young pahlawan away from the family festivities for such a long time. Rostam explained how the unusual winds had forced large numbers of starfish above the normal high tide mark and that if he didn’t return them to the water they would all die. Zal told his son that the shore that they we standing on stretched for hundreds of leagues and the tide had put virtually thousands of starfish in harm’s way.

Zal said, “Son you can’t possibly make a difference for these creatures.” Bending again and softly pitching another starfish toward the last glimmer of light still clinging to where the sun had just set in the gulf, Rostam smiled and said, “Father dear, with respect, I made a difference for that one.”

For most of us Peace Corps Volunteers our small, thoughtful, committed group has already taken part in dedicated efforts that have changed the world for the better. Through your membership in and communication with FoA you can continue to make a difference in the lives of individuals who are often hopeless without our attention and assistance.

Friends of Afghanistan supports SOLA and the AWWP in providing gender equity educational opportunities for Afghan women and girls. We are in contact with women’s rights organizations in Kabul that are helping us provide assistance to the anonymous author of the “I am for Sale…” article published in the Los Angeles Times. We have even sent funds to purchase a sewing machine for a woman who is the sole support for her family. We have supported large and small educational and vocational projects, bought computers to open windows to the world for Afghan women and through our partner organizations we have built a well and contributed to the construction of schools throughout Afghanistan. While we are aware that these projects are not dramatically changing the challenging struggles that the Afghan nation is facing. We are still uncompromisingly committed to changing individuals’ worlds, one project at a time.

Salaamati, Tony Agnello

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has."  Margaret Mead 

Starfish Award

posted Sep 18, 2011, 4:40 AM by Terry Dougherty   [ updated Feb 25, 2015, 2:59 PM ]

First Starfish Award to

SOLA, School of Leadership, Afghanistan, &

SOLA founder, Ted Achilles

Sustainable solutions to Afghanistan’s often seemingly insoluble needs must come from educated Afghans, especially Afghan women, and cannot be imposed from the outside.                    — Ted Achilles


SOLA taught me that I can do anything; most importantly to be loved and to love.

                                                                                                                                   — Sana, SOLA student

Ted Achilles standing with Angela who is now studying at Richmond University in Virginia

Friends of Afghanistan presented the Starfish Award at the FoA reunion in Washington, D.C., to Ted Achilles, founder and director of SOLA, School of Leadership AfghanistanThis award is given to the person who truly “makes a difference” in an individual’s life. Through SOLA's support for gender equal educational programs and scholarships for girls, SOLA is helping to build and sustain the next generation of female Afghan leaders.

Friends of Afghanistan is a proud and tangible supporter for SOLA in its efforts to promote equitable educational opportunity in Afghanistan. SOLA and Friends of Afghanistan have worked together to help launch the Afghan Women's Writing Project by purchasing computers and setting up an email exchange between students and AWWP mentors. Together we helped select and support children under Solace for the Children's medical assistance program for war injured children. We continue to focus on developing ESL classes for students preparing to enter international high schools and higher educational opportunities.

We expect this partnership to grow in the years ahead—and SOLA students to return to run the program themselves. In fact, one already has: Shabana became SOLA’s new head of school on her return to Kabul after graduating from Middlebury College in Vermont in 2011.

SOLA students follow the maxim, SOLA helps those who help themselves. Upper-level students serve as teachers and mentors to new students and work as translators and advocates for Solace students. They have learned American sign language in order to teach a hearing-impaired student. They participate actively in the Afghan Women's Writing Project to learn to write effectively in English. They perform office jobs at SOLA to learn proper business procedures and communications.

Every single example is in itself an example of leadership — one's involvement in helping others. What better definition of leadership is there than that?                                                                   — Ted Achilles

SOLA is no more than the antithesis of an institution. We do what we do not for contracts, but because each and every SOLA student is a person for whom we care—and care deeply—and for whom we’ll go to great lengths to help achieve her personal objectives. Why? Because we can!                  — Ted Achilles

Louise Pascale, PhD (center with flowers) and Ted Achilles, amid students in front of Ted's beloved, antique Russian Jeep (may it rest in peace), November 2009. Female SOLA students from left to right: 

Fatemeh, now at Mary Washington University — Virginia

Khadija, now at the American School for the Deaf — Connecticut 

Sana, now at Bishop Dwenger High School — Indiana

Meena, now at Russell Sage College — New York

Bibi Fatima, now at United World Colleges — New Mexico


Photo at top of page: Ted with Angela, now at University of Richmond — Virginia

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